Directionality and Purpose

Why Torah?


It’s a simple question, easily overlooked–as is any foundation stone.  For what purpose is the Torah?  What is its place in our faith?  What is the purpose of our faith?  And by extension, life?

Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:21-5

When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt. And YHVH brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. And YHVH showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear YHVH our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as he has commanded us.’”

The narrative quality of Judaism has recently been impressed upon me.  As Western Civilization has gradually and thoroughly separated spirituality from daily life, religion has largely come to be seen as the participation in a common experience that transcends time.  But Judaism is different.

Judaism invites the believer to participate in the perpetuation of a lineage and legacy–to place one’s point on the timeline, if you will.  It’s an entirely foreign perspective to western thought.

As an example, Christians often read their scripture a few verses at a time, seeking a deeper spiritual meaning to those verses.  The verses are usually extracted from any larger context and not read sequentially.

Jews on the other hand view Torah (if not TaNaKh) as a saga–a great narrative to be taken as a whole–and our method of reading often serves to reinforce that quality.

This linear focus of Judaism is reflected in the text of the TaNaKh as well.  Hashem’s greatest promise is to make us a great nation.  He often demonstrates his interest and care for us by addressing our immediate crises (bringing the Israelites out of Egypt, for example, or bringing Yacov and his household safely home).

I have recently been made aware that there are those who believe the purpose of the TaNaKh is the lead-up to and instructional manual for the end times supposedly described by Daniel 12.  I don’t know whether that interpretation of Daniel 12 is correct.  I think there are multiple possible interpretations, but that is not relevant to the matter at hand.  What is the purpose of Torah, and why should we follow it?

Those who have made the argument delineated in the paragraph above argue that, in the absence of a resurrection or afterlife, Torah and the rest of the Scripture are moot.  It had never occurred to me that such a view could exist.  This is where directionality (mentioned in the title) comes into play.  In this view of Torah as a support for resurrection, with resurrection being the ultimate point of faith, the central book of the TaNaKh is Daniel, and one works back from Daniel, through the Writings and Prophets (which provide details), to the Law (which is the how-to), and ends with the conclusion that Hashem exists and is omnipotent (B’resheit [Genesis]1) as a result of His promise of resurrection.  “At some point after I die, there will be resurrection, therefore Hashem exists and is omnipotent.”  In other words, Torah is a tool used to make Hashem serve the individual.

This is precisely the reverse of the schema that I assumed to be universal among Jews:  Hashem exists and is omnipotent (B’resheit 1).  Therefore, we should follow the Law He gave us and rejoice that He has chosen to be intimately involved in the life of the Nation of Israel (Prophets, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah) and in our lives individually (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Ruth, and Job).  “Because Hashem exists and is omnipotent, I should serve Him by following His Torah.”

The idea that Hashem’s omnipotence is conditional does not sit well with me.  Nor does the idea that the Torah is lacking–that its validity depends on some future promise not explicitly referenced in the Torah.  If Torah is incomplete, then it cannot be divinely inspired, and therefore cannot be important.  Anything divinely inspired must, by definition, be complete.  Moreover, I believe that everything else found in the cannon MUST be couched in Torah, otherwise it violates the following commandment not to alter the Torah.

So, is the Torah complete?

Devarim 12:32  

“Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.”

And

Devarim 30:11-20

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

In other words, yes, Torah is complete.  We may not alter it (meaning nothing additional is needed), and we do not need to go far to seek it out–we have everything it is meant to contain.

 
Why should we follow it?
 
In no particular order:
  • So that Hashem will accept our sacrifices and supplications (B’resheit 4:6)
  • So that we may successfully live in the land he gives us, so that we may not be destroyed, as were the idolaters at Baal-Pe’or, so that the other nations may see Hashem and Torah as the source of our strength, and so that we may keep our covenant (Devarim 4:1-14)
  • So that we may demonstrate our fealty to Hashem when He tests us (Devarim 13:1-4
  • So that we may demonstrate our personal commitment to our covenant with Hashem and the welfare of the Nation of Israel (Devarim 26:12-19)
  • As a means of choosing life and good, so that we will be blessed and our progeny after us (Devarim 30:11-20)
  • In order to participate in the blessing of Avraham (B’resheit 12:2-3)
  • In order to perpetuate the great people of Avraham (B’resheit 12:2-3)
Finally, why would Hashem choose to give an incomplete document to his greatest prophet (Devarim 34)?  If Moshe is eternally the greatest prophet, all future prophecies must be subordinate to Torah, meaning that the legitimacy of Torah cannot hinge on any external document.  It must be complete in itself.
As a people, we can only continue to be great, in any sense, if we consider the basis of our cultural unity to be inviolate.  It is what Torah teaches us, what the prophets demonstrate, and what the writings encourage.  There are many blessings promised us in return for our obedience, but they all are components of our continuation as a people.  Our existance is the greatest blessing He can bestow.

Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 12:13

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”

Devarim 5:32-3

“You shall be careful therefore to do as YHVH your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.”

 


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